Migraine surgery takes away pain for local woman

Doctors at St. Vincent's Medical Center tackle the toughest headaches

JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Here it comes again a familiar feeling.

"It feels like there is an ice pick being shoved at the base of my skull," says Jamie Johnson.

There's never a good time for a debilitating migraine but one of the worse times is when you're working at the nerve center of a busy loud newsroom. Jamie Johnson has worked at Channel 4 for 10 years.

"There have been times where I've sat in front of the computer with my sunglasses on and the lights off," says Johnson.

Anything to lessen the pain but really nothing but time and medicine helps.  It's been Jamie's battle since she was a little girl.

"I remember going to the doctor and he said, 'Ah honey, it's all in your head,'" says Johnson.

The painful headaches that just kept coming back.  In college Jamie said those headaches got a name, migraines.

"You get used to it but I'd say that in the process of getting used to it the bad migraines you notice more," says Johnson.

Those days could soon be a thing of the past. Fast forward more than 20 years and Jamie has a way out.

"Surgery. I'm not exactly against the idea but what does that entail," says Johnson

Jamie agreed to Occipital Nerve Decompression Surgery.  Her Migraine surgeon Dr. Michael Fallucco, at St. Vincent's Medical Center explains how the surgery to take pressure of her nerves works.

"So what we'll do through a small incision, just a couple of inches, is go in and find those nerves and go free those nerves up," says Fallucco.

After several tests it was determined Jamie was a perfect candidate.

"I have no idea for the things that I can do. I'm going to be able to turn my head, left in traffic, stupid little things that people take for granted.  I can  ride a roller coaster and hold my niece on my left side," says Johnson.

The surgery shouldn't take more than two hours. Dr Fallucco says the riskiest part is the anesthesia and in 90 percent of cases the pain is reduced significantly.

"Nerves take time to regenerate, but usually when you release the compression the relief is almost immediate," says Fallucco.

Dr Fallucco lets me get very close during the surgery.

"We use magnifying glasses to be able to see the nerve. Nerves are larger than you think, about the size of a pencil, says Fallucco."

He cuts into the base of her skull and it's a clean incision.  Dr Fallucco has to go a little deeper than he expected but when he finds the nerve he's able to free it and the healing can begin.

"It's an out-patient procedure. She'll go home today and be home with her husband," says Fallucco.

That husband has to get used to a new Jamie. 

We checked with the family a month after surgery and while Jamie has some discomfort because the nerve is still healing.  She hasn't had a migraine since the night before surgery.

"I have a hard time believing that. Like people would say that, they're like this is probably the last time you're going to have a migraine and I'm like 'whatever, I know my head. That's not true.  Then now I'm like dude I haven't had a migraine in almost three weeks. What!,  says Johnson"

Dr. Fallucco says it's just going to get better. Brian and Jamie are now working on a new normal.

"Getting a life back that we've never had will be kinda cool. You know, we can go on long cruises where they cant fill her prescription, we don't need it this time,"  says Johnson."

"I'm chipper. I'm annoyingly peppy.  Everybody that I've talked to post surgery is just like you're in a better mood," says Johnson

As of this writing Jamie has not had another migraine.

For more information about the surgery you can call St Vincent's at  904-308-7300.

Jamie Johnson blogs at IdiotRunnerGirl.WordPress.com.  Here are some of her posts before and after her surgery:

About the Author:

Anchor on The Morning Show team and reporter specializing on health issues.